It was the night that changed the world.
But as morning dawned, everything seemed pretty much as it always had been. Shepherds were back in the fields, tending their sheep. The sky that had been ablaze with angelic glory was silent. The Roman census went ahead as scheduled. The hungry were still hungry and the poor still poor. Israel continued to chafe under oppressive foreign rule.
The promise of Christmas is not that everything changes tomorrow, but that change is possible through Christ. The change wrought on that first Christmas night would take generations, centuries, millennia to be fully realized. It begins with the transformation of human hearts.
For Christians in China, a significant chapter in this unfolding story began on September 4, 1807, with Robert Morrison’s arrival in Macau. Today’s Chinese Protestants look back on this day as the one that changed everything, the humble beginning of a gospel movement that would one day reverberate across China.
Yet, as in the days following that first Christmas night, China in the wake of Morrison’s momentous arrival appeared largely unchanged. In the ensuing decades, many more would follow in Morrison’s footsteps, seeking the transformation of China through the power of the gospel. The emergence of figures like the Taiping leader Hong Xiuquan, reformer Sun Yat-sen, or Chiang Kai-shek, all of whom claimed the name of Christ, captured the imaginations of some who harbored hopes of a popular mass movement ushering in a “Christian China.” Rather than overseeing the transformation of China from the commanding heights of political power, however, countless anonymous Chinese Christians would instead labor in relative obscurity, building an unseen kingdom in the shadow of leaders who, having rejected Christ, sought to remake the country in their own image. Their story would not be one of conquest but of faithfulness.
So it is with Christmas. A cosmic event, it forever changed the course of human history. But for those who experienced that first Christmas, the change was deeply personal. Those who encounter the Messiah are those, like Zechariah and Elizabeth, who are willing to have their hearts radically transformed at his coming. Their encounters with the incarnate Christ invite us to be still, to consider through their eyes the miracle that was taking place, and to allow Christ to change our hearts even as theirs were changed.
Mary’s example of faithfulness invites us to reflect on our own readiness to receive God’s unique calling upon our lives, along with the misunderstanding and pain this may entail.
Joseph’s obedience reminds us that Christ is revealed in ways that may seem incomprehensible. We respond, not with complete understanding, but with quiet trust, believing that what God has promised will be fulfilled.
The shepherds’ awe and wonder summon us away from the inherent busyness of the season to humbly contemplate the inexpressible joy Christ has put into our hearts.
The devotion of Anna, who worshipped in the temple day and night, orients our lives toward our promised redemption. Simeon’s prophetic blessing stirs our hearts to embrace the consolation of Israel and the hope of nations.
Quiet, slow, mysterious—the miracle of Christmas foreshadows the coming kingdom of God. Calling us back to the true nature of that kingdom, it invites us to put away our incomplete visions of a transformed world and to recognize where true transformation starts. Christmas changes everything, beginning with our own hearts.
Image credit: “The Nativity” via Chinese Christian Posters.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio
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